Storytelling is truly an ancient art form, one that has been going on almost since mankind began. Today, we have numerous ways to hear stories, whether it be reading a book, watching television, or listening to a song. However, only one form of storytelling puts you in the story. Video games are truly revolutionizing storytelling, and have been for some time now. Video games have evolved from something created for pure fun into a medium capable of telling some of the best and most interesting interactive stories. Video games even have their own category in the Writers Guild of America for Video Game Writing, although according to this article they still have a few kinks to work out. No other form of entertainment throws you into the action in the same way, gives you the amount of control over a story’s outcome, or lets you become so attached to characters. It truly is in every sense the next big step in storytelling.
When people read a book they aren’t used to stopping at the end of a paragraph, thinking about the events that transpired, and then deciding to change those events. But we as gamers do that every day. We make the world the way we want it, deal with characters the way we feel like they should be dealt with. In other words, we are the story. Without us, there is no narrative. Many current popular games do this, such as Fallout, Dragon Age or Mass Effect. In these games you build relationships with characters, whether they are friendly or hostile is up to the player, and watch the consequences unfold. Sometimes not much of anything happens, but other times an entire country could rise or fall according to your decision. There is no author guiding your hand, nobody telling you what to do. The choice is yours and yours alone and it is up to the player to analyze everything he or she knows about this world to make a conclusion that they think is the best (or sometimes the worst) for this virtual world. In a movie or book you can’t ask more questions, try to get the whole picture, or investigate and explore further. You can only continue going forward. In the video game realm you can look into the world as hard as you want, learn everything about it, or you can get by with the bare minimum. This is what makes storytelling in videogames so deep and complex.
Another one of the biggest reasons videogames are really becoming a platform for great storytelling is that you simply spend more time with these characters than most other forms of storytelling. Everybody has seen a two or three hour movie that really affected them. You were really attached and invested in the characters trouble and for those two or three hours you are in that world. Now imagine playing a game for triple that amount of time. How does that affect your emotional investment in the characters and story being told? Most story driven videogames (so not Super Mario) can be played anywhere from about eight or nine hours all the way to 20 or even 50 plus hours of gameplay. When you spend that much time in a world as a character getting to know them, going through their trials and tribulations, of course you are going to become attached to them. Another reason that you become attached is because their trials and tribulations are YOUR trials and tribulations. That big greedy government man who kidnapped your family? YOU, not the character in the game, spend the next 20 hours of your real life tracking him down for revenge. It becomes personal on so many levels, and adds so much depth and emotion into what would be an otherwise dull story. When you see a character gunned down next to you that has been your ally for the last fifteen hours, in that moment the shock of the loss is real. Sure if you booted up your save or loaded up a previous level that virtual man made of polygons would be fine. But in that one sincere moment that character is gone forever, and the loss is real.
For anybody who has never experienced a truly great game narrative, you are truly missing out, as it is like no other form of storytelling. For those of you who have, you know what exactly what I am talking about. Now if only Roger Ebert would sit down and play a game maybe he would finally get the picture. In case you missed it, Mr. Ebert made the claim some months ago about how video games are not art and can never be art, even though he admitted to never actually having played one. Sounds like a good next topic! See you next week, comments are welcome.
P.S. On a side note a recent event involving the new game Bulletstorm and Fox News has just caught my attention and is very related to my post last week. Check of the Gameinformer article here!